What does the new face of mountain biking look like?
One Northern California student-athlete wrote an article for school about the growth of mountain biking as a highschool sport and some of the barriers of diversity and inclusion that NICA has overcome. The growth of Mountain Biking is exciting for the community as a whole – and it's the initiatives that interscholastic leagues take, as well as the hundreds of volunteer coaches, that make it possible.
Written by: Harrison Threlfall
Mountain biking, a pastime that only came into existence roughly 60 years ago, is now growing among the ranks of interscholastic highschool sports. According to data from the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), 18,576 kids in the nation participated in different divisions of NICA in 2018. In 2022, 25,616 kids signed up to ride and race with their peers. This is an increase of roughly 35% in just four years.
In 2021, the NorCal league added a middle school section to the competitive part of the league. “Our stretch goal was to have 500 student-athletes participate, but we ended up with 832 registered,” said Vanessa Hauswald, NorCal League Director. This middle school program contributes to Mountain Biking growing for all ages, not just at the high school level.
Hauswald explained how Mountain Biking needs to become integrated into American culture from all angles in order to sustain its growth, “If it were on a continuum, like baseball is right now where you get started really young, and then you can go through all the different levels, that would be awesome.”
California also has a lot of access to trails, which Hauswald pointed out as another reason for being able to have so many people compete in Mountain Biking. “If you look at our map, and where most of our teams are, they're in places where there's access to dirt.” In order to grow participation for the sport, the NorCal league is starting to incorporate urban races and teams into the agenda, starting in 2021 with an urban race that was held in Modesto.
Zack Hirsekorn, the head coach of the Santa Rosa Composite mountain bike team, commented on the growth of his team, “We saw a lot of growth from the previous year growing from 25-30 kids to over one hundred registered kids in 2022.” A large part of this growth was due to the integration of middle school riders. Although such a large team can be overwhelming, Hirsekorn has really enjoyed seeing athletes physically and mentally grow through the sport.
Kids kind of come out of their shell and learn confidence and interpersonal skills with their peers.
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